Hillel and Jesus: Comparative Studies of Two Major Religious Leaders

By Goldberg, Louis | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Hillel and Jesus: Comparative Studies of Two Major Religious Leaders


Goldberg, Louis, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Hillel and Jesus: Comparative Studies of Two Major Religious Leaders. Edited by James H. Charlesworth and Loren L. Johns. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997, xxxi + 486 pp., $50.00.

This volume represents a number of essays presented at an international symposium in Jerusalem, June 1992, called by J. H. Charlesworth to treat the questions "How can we learn more about Hillel by comparing him with Jesus, and how can we learn more about Jesus by comparing him with Hillel" tp. xiii). With the historical-critical methodology at hand, both Jesus and Hillel are asserted to be real people, teachers in Israel who lived prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 cE. Obviously, differences did exist between the contributing scholars concerning the reliability of the traditions: written traditions concerning Jesus were present within 50 years after his death but written traditions concerning Hillel vary between 200 and 500 years.

Hillel and Jesus is divided into three parts where the first set of four essays is an introduction to the questions the writers faced with this project. J. H. Charlesworth begins by examining what is necessary for such a project and then offers some of his views of differences and similarities between Hillel and Jesus. Next, A. GoshenGottstein has difficulty relating Hillel and Jesus as an identity in type, but rather would see Hillel as a part of his collective culture while Jesus should be viewed in the cultures in which he lived. M. Weinfeld critiques the attempts by Christian scholars of 50 to 100 years ago as a grass reductionism of Judaism while seeing Jesus' teaching as superior. He hints at this problem of the past that did not assess correctly the contributions of Jewish religious and cultural understanding to the background of the NT. D. Flusser compares Hillel and Jesus in terms of their self awareness, seeing them where they differ significantly, suggesting that Jesus understood himself to be the Messiah, "Son of Man," while Hillel is the representative of humanity.

Part 2 takes up the specific social and historical studies that clarify the contexts in which the two men functioned. Eight essays are in this group with titles such as "Archaeology and Religious Ethos of Pre-70 Palestine," "Apocalypticism in the Time of Hillel and Jesus," "Who Were the Pharisees?," "Jesus and Factionalism in Early Judaism," "Jesus and Cynics in First-Century Palestine," "Jesus and His Community: Between Essenes and Pharisees," and "Jesus' Socioeconomic Background.'

Possibly the most valuable of this second group of essays is J. P. Arnold's "The Relationship of Paul and Jesus." After discussing the work of F. C. Baur and several of the Tiibingen school who created a wedge between Pauline Christianity and the Jerusalem apostles, Arnold attempts to demonstrate the exact opposite. With W. D. Davies, Krister Stendahl, David Dungan, and J. D. G. Dunn, who describe Paul's positive relation to Jesus, Arnold himself agrees where he (1) demonstrates that "Paul taught more material that is contained in his preserved letters . . . he had `delivered' important traditions which he had `received' (1 Cor 11:23 and 15:3)" (p. 263); (2) he received traditions from other Christians who instructed him; and (3) some of these traditions about Jesus, which include information about the historical Jesus, are specified and discussed in Paul's letters. …

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